Major Setback for Delta Tunnels: DWR Withdraws Certification that WaterFix Is Consistent with Delta Plan

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) has withdrawn its Certification that its proposed Delta tunnels (WaterFix) project is consistent with the Delta Plan.  As anticipated in a November 16, 2018 CSPA post, there is now no chance that the Delta tunnels will be approved and begin construction before Governor Brown leaves office in January 2019.

In a December 7, 2018 letter to Chair of the Delta Stewardship Council Randy Fiorini, DWR Director Karla Nemeth wrote: “[T]here are unresolved issues related to interpretation of the requirements of the Delta Reform Act and Delta Plan policies.   Therefore, DWR is hereby withdrawing the Certification of Consistency for WaterFix that was filed on July 27, 2018.”

This is as close to an admission as DWR is likely to come.  In the same letter, Director Nemeth also pleaded: “DWR firmly believes the timing of filing the Certification of Consistency for WaterFix was appropriate ….”

Jeff Kightlinger, General Manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, one of the biggest WaterFix proponents and prospective beneficiaries, was quoted in the Sacramento Bee as saying: “I hope it’s just a time issue, like a fix-it ticket.”[1]  This is the kind of glib self-assurance that makes it satisfying to see DWR and its team taken down a peg by the previously-reported Delta Stewardship Council’s staff report[2] and Council chair’s admonition to withdraw.[3]  For the past 3 years, DWR has sought to characterize a constantly changing project description as what it told the stewardship council was “adjustments.”

Clearly, a vague project description did not pass muster.  The Delta Stewardship Council could not overlook major project uncertainties, such as the role if any of the Bureau of Reclamation in the project and in meeting state-required regulations for Delta protection.  DWR will have to come back to the Delta Stewardship Council with a project that has resolved such major uncertainties.   Perhaps even more difficult, DWR will need to confront the litany of project impacts to the Delta, its residents, and its recreational users.  Representatives of in-Delta interests presented compelling evidence to the Delta Stewardship Council about the impacts of millions of pile-driver strikes, thousands of barge trips, and daily traffic snarls resulting from draw bridge openings to accommodate the barge trips.  It is not simple to change the project to resolve these impacts.

The more DWR changes the project, the more likely it may be for DWR to persuade the Delta Stewardship Council.  But the more the project changes, the more those changes may cascade into other processes.  Changing the project may result in the need for another round of environmental review.  It could possibly also require additional testimony in the WaterFix water rights hearing at the State Water Board.

December 7, 2018 was a day of victory for those who have fought the Delta tunnels over the last decade.  But it is a victory in a battle, not in the war.  CSPA fully expects to be back before the Delta Stewardship Council to oppose a second Certification of Consistency for WaterFix.


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